Tidy Books News

Win a breathtaking kid’s book: Unspoken by Henry Cole


Win this beautiful kids’s book to fill your kids’s bookcase with Tidy Book’s  book review and competition


It’s pretty rare that a kid’s book sends shivers up your spine – in a good way.   Unspoken by Henry Cole did just that for me.  His wordless story of humanity and courage is beautifully judged.   Unspoken encapsulates a little piece of American history in a profound way for 7-10 year olds, and gets the reader to ask themselves; ‘what is that person really thinking?’

To win a copy of Unspoken, tell us a family story that your granny used to tell.  It could be moving, scary or humorous.  To enter, leave a comment at the end.

unspoken 1


Unspoken is the story of the Underground Railroad – the network of Southern families who helped slaves who had escaped to reach safety in the North.   A farm girl discovers an escaped slave hiding in the barn.  Overcoming her initial fear, she silently hides food from the family dinner table to take to the man or woman (we never discover). The family is wordless too, when the soldiers arrive with offers of a reward, but leave empty handed.

The author grew up on a farm in Virginia and as a child, listened to Civil War stories from elderly relatives at Thanksgiving.  Unspoken is based on Henry Cole’s fascination with the part that the barn on his own farm might have played in the history of slavery.

My 8 year old and I read it together, slowly and carefully, drawn in by the characters’ expressions, and talking a little about the history.   What fascinated me was working out the expressions of the girl’s family:  Did they know what the girl was doing? Were they an established safe house, and the adults set her up for it?  One of the signs that families used to leave out for slaves running for freedom was a blanket over a fence.


I’d had my eye on Unspoken for a little while, having had my attention drawn to it by blogger and librarian 100 Scope Notes, and the New York Times picks of 2012.  The book was tipped by many to be a Caldecott winner, but beaten to it by Jon Klassen’s That’s Not my Hat’.

Henry Cole decided Unspoken would be wordless, after his written version was rejected, as he explains in this interview.  The book is all the more powerful for its silence and resonates with the courage of the men and women in search of their freedom and the people who helped them.  As blogger Bookdragon says; it’s a personal victory for Henry Cole too, having had many call for another of his books to be censored.

Unspoken is a book that kids will find different meanings and questions about as they get older, and is a picture book that you’d want to keep on your shelves long after the children have left home.

Unspoken by Henry Cole is published by Scholastic New York, 2012.


To win a copy of Unspoken by Henry Cole, tell us a family story that your grandma (or grandpa)  used to tell.  It could be moving, scary or humorous.  To enter, leave a comment at the end.

Leave your answer in the comment box below.  So we can notify the winner please confirm on our Facebook page that you have entered.  This competition is open to the US only.

Good luck!



Géraldine Grandidier

About Géraldine Grandidier

Géraldine is Tidy Books’ founder, designer and CEO, as well as mum to Adele and Emile. She started Tidy Books in her violin workshop because she couldn’t find a good bookcase for her kids. Now her Tidy Books bookcases and storage designs are encouraging independence and a love of reading in kids all over the world.

Related Posts

13 thoughts on “Win a breathtaking kid’s book: Unspoken by Henry Cole

  1. Avatar Jodi says:

    My grandpa was in the Navy in the South Pacific in World War 2. My favorite one of the stories he tells is how he had to transfer ships to get to the ship of the admiral he was assigned to. The two ships kind of get close to each other in the water and they run a rope between them. Then a little chair of sorts is put on the rope and grandpa gets in the chair. His things are also attached to the rope Sailors on either ship pull the rope through some pullys and the chair and bags move along between the two ships. As the ships kind of rock in the waves, grandpa may get dipped in the ocean, but the ships are still far enough apart to not have to worry about getting squished. Then eventually he arrives to the second ship, wet but no worse for wear, and the sailors help him out of the chair, the ropes are detached, and both ships continue on their way. Grandpa says that he had to do this probably a half dozen times in order to make it to the ship where he was assigned.

  2. Avatar YvonneJ says:

    I don’t really recall any of my grandparents telling stories. I do know that my grandfather traveled from Canada to Kansas by covered wagon when he was a boy…a story I wish that he had shared with us.

  3. Avatar Kristy says:

    My grandpa, papaw, is full of great stories! He always likes to get us laughing. 🙂 He was the baby of 11, growing up on a farm and had to quit school in the 8th grade to help work. He had a tough life, but by the grace of God never lost his joy and shares it today with my own children. Thanks for the chance!

  4. Avatar kristin m. says:

    My grandma is a Cajun, so we got the rougarou story when we were old enough. scared the heck out me!!!

  5. Avatar Clenna says:

    My grandmother’s father drove a horse and covered wagon from Indiana to Kansas every year or so. He had a harvesting machine that the horses pulled to harvest wheat. He would harvest wheat along the route. My grandmother was about five when her baby brother became ill. Since they were traveling there were no doctors nearby. The little boy died from "consumption" which was probably TB or Diphtheria. He was buried along the trail, no marker. Can you imagine the pain that mother suffered. My heart breaks for her.

  6. Avatar Clenna says:

    My great grandfather drove a covered wagon from Indiana to Kansas. A round trip took 1 1/2 years. Along the way he used the horses to pull a harvester to harvest wheat. His family always traveled with him. When my grandmother was 5 her younger brother got sick and died. There no doctors along the route, and the family wouldn’t have gone to one anyway. The baby died of "consumption", which was either tuberculosis or diphtheria .
    He was buried along the trail with no marker. Can you imagine the loss that mother felt?

  7. Avatar Sue Rittgers says:

    My mother had Grant Wood for an art teacher as a high school student in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Grant Wood would would come to class in uniform since he had recently been in the military. Being an artist at heart, he would often oversleep, and his principal would have to go and get him. One day he asked the principal to drive him in a wagon to a local country school. He wanted to sketch the school for a painting that he would do later. The day was chilly, and so he drank some on the way to keep warm. My mother always would laugh because the story the principal told was that she wasn’t sure he would be sober enough to sketch when he got there. Later that painting would be called Arbor Day. My mother taught in that country school and later married the school’s superintendant’s son.

  8. Avatar bonnye sensenig says:

    My grandmother has always told me the story of the depression- and how they would get cake and slice it into slices SO thin it would last them a week of desserts for everyone. I still think of it when I cut into a giant birthday cake.

  9. Avatar tiziana blacklock says:

    My grandmother would tell me the story of Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Pigs and other fairy tales that involved wolves and witches eating children. No wonder I had nightmares and would wake up screaming about a wolf coming through the walls of my room.

  10. Avatar Rachel Holman says:

    My great grandmother (born in 1911) used to tell me a story about the first time she saw a car coming down the road to their farm. She thought it was a monster! My grandmother (her daughter) used to tell me a story about how she used to ride around on her father’s vegetable cart helping him ring the bell to sell fruit and veg. One day, she came down with German measles and was ill for two weeks. During that time, every one of his customers asked about her and sent her messages carved into turnips to send home to her!

  11. My dad told me about the first time he listened to radio. The neighbor’s had their first radio and all the neighbors went to listen. Try as they did, they never found a station,, but my dad thought it was a wonderful, because for the first time in his life, he heard static.

  12. When my dad was a young boy he went to the neighbor’s house to listen to radio for the first time. Radio was new and very few people had them. They tried to find a station to listen to talking, but couldn’t find one. He went home all excited and told his folks "we didn’t hear words, but we got to listen to static. "

  13. Avatar Sophia Brown says:

    I used this book in my writing class of four young black girls who looked at the pictures and had to tell me what they saw in the pictures. They looked at it and they told me exactly what I knew they would see,lol, just what was on the surface. I’d looked earlier in the day, felt the pages as if I could touch the characters in this beautiful artwork, that captured such an overwhelming emotion in me of "What Love Can Truly Mean" I thought of this little girl and, whom I believe to be a black male slave, long after I put it down. I hope that I can share the story that I wrote, after really diving deep into each page and expressing what I saw on the surface and what I believe to be underneath.

    My story…
    I see them this morning, five of them on horses, waving their funny looking flag, so proudly.

    It’s good to see people when they come. I dont have any friends. Mama says that it’s nice to have friends to run and play with. All I have is the calf Betsie and of course Cat.

    Sometimes, when I’m in a bad mood, I’m pretty mean to Cat. Mama told me once, "Don’t be mean to that cat, or he’ll run away from you." and he did too. Got up pretty early one morning and he was gone. He finally came back because Papa says, "Love will always return to you." And so I just keep on loving Cat and I’m never being mean to him again.

    Seeing the men leave makes me a little sad, because there’s never any excitement here on this farm, because there are hardly ever any visitors. Even the old tree looks as if it wants to reach out it’s branches, touch life and say, "Please stay with us a little while longer."
    I watch them until they are no longer in sight.

    The chickens are everywhere. It is always my job to feed them and there is hardly ever any fun in that.

    Gras calls out to me. She needs me to take her lucky basket and bring in onions and potatoes for supper.

    I almost drop one when I hear a strange noise coming from the cornfield. There is something hidden behind the stalks.

    I gasp when I see it. It is an eye. An eye of a real human being.

    I run as fast as I could . The onions and potatoes, one after the other, tumble to the ground along with Grams’ lucky basket.

    I slow myself before rushing in. I’m not too certain if I want to spill my news, like I’ve done the onion and potatoes. I think long and hard about my secret and dont feel that I am quite ready to share it.
    Like I said before, there is hardly ever any excitement on this farm.

    While my family sits around the table, the fire warms the room and the soft glow of the flames illuminates the night and while they pray, I sit there and dream with my eyes wide open.

    When supper is over, and everone is winding down from a hard days work, I escape into the shed.

    I’m hoping that the old latern will shed light on my secret. Perhaps it will shed light on what I beliive to be true.
    Grams has told me so many stories of slaves who runaway from their mean ole masters.

    I have taken a biscuit that is leftover from supper and bring it along with me.

    I could barely catch my breathe. It is true. He sees me and I look at him and smile, not even afraid that he maybe could hurt me.
    We exchange not even a sound, but our feelings are mutual. We both needed a friend.
    I dont stay with him long, but Papa would argue that I’ve stayed out long enough.

    I ease my way inside through the back door where my Gram sits and knits quietly at the table by the light. She hums the most beautiful tune that I’ve never heard before. In between her humming she releases words that says, Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home." and I wonder where she gets those words. I’ve heard a million songs that Gram would often sing, but I’ve never heard something that sounds so slow, so soft, so sweet.

    Each day after supper, I always share with my friend. He eats as if he’s not so hungry. Perhaps Grams knows about him and has already fed him. He takes it from my hand and nods his head, then I am gone before anyone wonder why I am spending so much time near the shed that sits behinds rows of corn in the field.

    The men are back, but they are no longer carrying their flag. They’re looking around the field and something tells me that they are looking for my friend.

    When they make their way inside, I follow them, but never do I make my presence known. When Mama and Papa are talking business, I am to always leave the room. I hide underneath the stairs in my own private crawl space and I listen anyway.

    The man with the long coat and rubber boots, takes out a rolled up piece of paper from his coat. He speaks in a long southern drawl. He says that they’re looking for a man and when they say "REWARD" the sound of the word rings in my ears. I look at Papa’s face and although he says we need more money, his face says something different today. It stays motionless, and he holds his lips together so that no words will escape his mouth.

    ‘Does Papa know" I think to myself.

    I sit here and wonder, looking at him, the man and then the paper. I want to say to those bad men them that my friend is not a piece of paper that can be rolled up into your pocket and tossed away into the wind. I want to tell them that my mother says, ‘if you treat someone mean that they will run away from you’ and my Papa says, ‘That if they love you that they will return." I want to scream these words to them, "He did not return to you!"

    But I say not a word!

    I watch them as they leave, climbing disappointedly back onto their horses. I watch the third horse who trots along behind them. For today , you will not have the pleasure of carrying away my friend.

    In the still of the darkness, I take my lantern and watch a smile on my friend’s face. It tells me that he is happy to be still with us.

    We stay silent and I have so much that I want to ask him. I want to know if he has children or a wife. I want to know, if they were left behind or did the bad men take them away from him. I even want to know if the sweet chariot will ever come to take him home. There’s so much that I want to know, but never do we speak a word.

    As the light glows and shine through dark beautiful eyes, I see a story. I know that he has a family, because I see love in his eyes.
    He reaches out and hands me a beautiful corn doll that he has created just for me.
    I wish that he could stay here forever, but one day, he will be gone and hopefully there will be another lantern that will shine a light upon those eyes and they too will see his story and perhaps they too will find a good friend.

    As I lay in my bed, my arms wrapped tenderly around my doll, I look up into the night sky and I see the stars.
    I pray to God that they will guide him on his journey.
    I pray to God that my silent friend will someday find his family and his voice again
    I pray tha someday, he may shout out to the world and the entire universe.
    I am free
    I am free
    Thank you God
    I am finally Free!
    The end

    I truly hope there is no harm in me putting words to what I saw in the artwork. I just took the opportunity to do what the author suggested in the back of the book. I know that everyone will see their own story, as did the most brilliant Mr. Henry Cole, that I truly fell in love with, Here is mine, I hope you enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *